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Deception and Incentives. How Dishonesty Undermines Effort Provision

  • Florian Ederer
  • Ernst Fehr

In this paper we show that subtle forms of deceit undermine the effectiveness of incentives. We design an experiment in which the principal has an interest in underreporting the true performance difference between the agents in a dynamic tournament. According to the standard approach, rational agents should completely disregard the performance feedback of self-interested principals and choose their effort level as if they had not been given any information. However, despite substantial underreporting many principals seem to exhibit lying aversion which renders their feedback informative. Therefore, the agents respond to the feedback but discount it strongly by reducing their effort relative to fully truthful performance feedback. Moreover, previous experiences of being deceived exacerbate the problem and eventually reduce average effort even below the level that prevails in the absence of any feedback. Thus, both no feedback and truthful feedback are better for incentives than biased feedback.

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Paper provided by Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich in its series IEW - Working Papers with number 341.

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Date of creation: Nov 2007
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Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:341
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  1. Crawford, Vincent P & Sobel, Joel, 1982. "Strategic Information Transmission," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(6), pages 1431-51, November.
  2. Nina Mazar & Dan Ariely, 2006. "Dishonesty in everyday life and its policy implications," Working Papers 06-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  3. Bull, Clive & Schotter, Andrew & Weigelt, Keith, 1987. "Tournaments and Piece Rates: An Experimental Study," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(1), pages 1-33, February.
  4. Joseph Tao-yi Wang & Michael Spezio & Colin F. Camerer, 2006. "Pinocchio's Pupil: Using Eyetracking and Pupil Dilation to Understand Truth-telling and Deception in Games," Levine's Bibliography 321307000000000042, UCLA Department of Economics.
  5. Christine Harbring & Bernd Irlenbusch & Matthias Kräkel & Reinhard Selten, 2004. "Sabotage in Asymmetric Contests – An Experimental Analysis," Bonn Econ Discussion Papers bgse12_2004, University of Bonn, Germany.
  6. Uri Gneezy, 2005. "Deception: The Role of Consequences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 384-394, March.
  7. John W. Dickhaut & Kevin A. McCabe & Arijit Mukherji, 1995. "An experimental study of strategicinformation transmission," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 6(3), pages 389-403.
  8. Edward P. Lazear & Sherwin Rosen, 1979. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts," NBER Working Papers 0401, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Jordi Brandts & Gary Charness, 2003. "Truth or Consequences: An Experiment," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 49(1), pages 116-130, January.
  10. Cai, Hongbin & Wang, Joseph Tao-Yi, 2006. "Overcommunication in strategic information transmission games," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 7-36, July.
  11. Florian Ederer, 2010. "Feedback and Motivation in Dynamic Tournaments," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 19(3), pages 733-769, 09.
  12. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
  13. Blume, Andreas, et al, 1998. "Experimental Evidence on the Evolution of Meaning of Messages in Sender-Receiver Games," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(5), pages 1323-40, December.
  14. Schotter, Andrew & Weigelt, Keith, 1990. "Asymmetric Tournaments, Equal Opportunity Laws And Affirmative Action: Some Experimental Result," Working Papers 90-14, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  15. Aoyagi, Masaki, 2010. "Information feedback in a dynamic tournament," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 70(2), pages 242-260, November.
  16. Crawford, Vincent P., 2001. "Lying for Strategic Advantage: Rational and Boundedly Rational Misrepresentation of Intentions," University of California at San Diego, Economics Working Paper Series qt6k65014s, Department of Economics, UC San Diego.
  17. Sanchez-Pages, Santiago & Vorsatz, Marc, 2007. "An experimental study of truth-telling in a sender-receiver game," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 86-112, October.
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